Hydrophobia Prophecy


posted 5/10/2011 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
As I read through the back story for Hydrophobia: Prophecy, a new release from Dark Energy Digital, Ltd., I couldn’t help thinking that the premise could provide bountiful fodder for those inclined to look for allegories applicable to the contemporaneous political and sociological rifts we deal with today. The story is set in the mid 21st century at roughly the period when the effects of the profligate and mostly unfettered excesses of the late 20th to early 21st centuries have brought about a “Malthusian catastrophe.” I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia: A Malthusian catastrophe is a forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth has outpaced agricultural production, energy production, or any of the other vital needs for preserving humanity.

Not surprisingly for a game called ‘Hydrophobia’, water plays a central role in the story; the Malthusian catastrophe that is the basis of the game is a global lack of fresh water. The resulting famine and poverty have caused an irreparable radicalization of the diametrically opposed capitalists and environmentalists, the latter being cast as ‘Neo-Malthusians.’ The capitalists have retreated to a massive ship-borne city where they research nano-technology means for converting oceanic salt water to fresh water. The Neo-Malthusians are having none of that; they believe the problem can be more readily solved by exterminating most of the world’s population. As with the radical moonbats that suggest the same type of solution today, they themselves are fundamentally lacking in the desire to lead by example. Their alternative is to attack and hijack the capitalists’ floating city, presumably having failed in having the government co-opt it through burdensome legislative regulations or extra-judicial maneuvering.

This is, of course, where you come in. You play the part of Kate Wilson, a systems engineer who will be tasked with saving the ship from the bad guys. Her job will be complicated by the fact that the attack by the Neo-Malthusians as caused quite a bit of damage to the ship. In fact, the lower decks are awash with sea water and rife with ruptured gas pipes that are prone to bursts of extremely dangerous fire. As is common in single protagonist action games, Kate also is in nearly constant contact with an expository voice to explain what’s going on and to periodically provide advice and clever quips. She also has a handheld device that appears to be a distant descendant of today’s iPad. It has some interesting apps that she can use to hack into various systems on the ship or get through encrypted door locks.

On the technology front, Hydrophobia uses Dark Energy’s proprietary HydroEngine technology to manage the detailed and highly accurate flow of the thousands of gallons of water that threaten to sink the ship and/or drown Kate. Designed by an astrophysicist with a specialization in nebula formation (I’m not making that up!), the intricate mathematics and complex rendering solved the problems that arise when using water as a central point of the game, but also introduced further complexities. For example, the AI need to have an autonomous design that allows each of them to respond to the varying conditions created by player decisions that vary the level and behavior of water in a given strategic situation. Other objects in the game, such as the ubiquitous crates and barrels than populate the hallways and storage holds, also need to behave realistically in the water.

Dark Energy’s web site describes the technology:

“The HydroEngine simulation shows all the subtle physical effects that are essential for maintaining the suspension of disbelief - water flowing around complex geometry creates eddies in backwaters, waves interact in a highly nonlinear way and we see all the chaotic behaviour we expect in real fluids. The flow interacts with all the physics objects in the world, and imparts flow and buoyancy forces which carry objects along, showing subtle effects such as the rotation imparted to objects moving in a shear flow.”
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